A Thought for the Month: Mind your language!

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A Thought for the Month: Mind your language!

This article was first featured in Orb8’s October email newsletter - Subscribe today

When contributing to the BASW 80/20 campaigns recording in social care top tips I offered something on the language we use. Why do children living with their birth family have brothers and sisters, friends, a home and a family and visits to their Nan whilst looked after children have siblings, peers, a placement, and contact? I do not think there is anything much more depressing than a 4-year-old talking about contact with their siblings. This others them and inducts them as different.

More recently I have been increasingly concerned about meaningless language that I read in reports and am working very hard to catch myself out if I stray into this territory. By this I mean catch all phrases that say less than nothing, aggressive/challenging behaviour, concerns, inadequate care, appropriate boundaries, inconsistent parenting, we could probably come up with a dictionary of them. They have a purpose they may be useful shorthand between professionals, cut down on report length and preserve confidential information and if that is the purpose then it may sometimes be valid. But most of the time I think it ranges from bad habit to deliberate or unwitting obscuring. It is in the latter where danger lies does aggressive mean, shouting back when someone says no or kicking an adults shins or threatening them with a knife which leave them in fear of their life. Honestly reading documents I would often have no idea, and these things matter, I have recently seen two foster placement end suddenly because the reports obscured the extent of children’s difficulties with the language of challenging and ‘gets upset sometimes’.

Finally I was speaking to a foster carer recently who used the word ‘defiant’ about a primary aged child, and I found myself raising half an eye brow and asking, ‘what do you mean by defiant’ because as I explained it was a word whereby different people would have different ideas. What then transpired was the child for the second time in two weeks wore clothes that weren’t clean. This led to an understanding that this child from a neglectful home had a very different understanding to the carer of what clean was! We came up with a plan of the child helping the foster carer with the laundry including looking and smelling and talking. Defiant was a meaningless dead end leaving both child and carer frustrated, actually saying what the child did and trying to understand what that was about opened up all sort of possibilities.

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